Basic Puppy Training 101

Whatever the method you choose to train your puppy, the first step is to be absolutely sure that your puppy understands what is expected. It is important to consistently praise your puppy for doing the right thing. Positive reinforcement is a much more powerful tool than punishment. Many puppies become afraid of their owners or sometimes try to fight back aggressively because they don’t understand why they are being punished. Punishment after the fact does not work.

Walking with a collar and leash. Get your puppy used to a collar first and then a leash. These are essential to protect the dog throughout its life. Start with a narrow, soft nylon collar and lightweight leash. When you are outside, try to walk along with your puppy, keeping the leash loose so that he does not get used to walking while pulling.

Practice keeping your puppy’s attention and eye contact. One of the biggest problems in training a dog is getting their attention so that he will listen to you. Getting your puppy to look at you and pay attention will make teaching any kind of command much more successful. Encourage your puppy to make eye contact with you by saying the name and holding a treat close to your face when your puppy looks at you while praising for maintaining eye contact. Now that he’s looking at you, he’s ready to listen to a command.

Sit. This is the easiest command to start training. Take a food tidbit and hold it in front of your puppy’s nose in a closed fist. Pass your fist toward the back of your puppy’s head as you say “sit”. As the head goes up and back to follow the treat, the puppy will usually automatically sit. Repeat this exercise regularly until your pet learns to sit as soon as the command is issued.

Stay. Stay is nothing more than a long sit. To teach your puppy to stay, stand in front of them and ask to sit. When the sit happens, praise, but don’t give a treat. Instead, say “stay” as you step back and give an open hand signal. Then, immediately, give a treat. Repeat the process, increasing distance as you step back from your puppy. Go only one step at a time.

Down. After your puppy has mastered “stay”, now it is time for the “down” command. Start by giving the “stay” command. Then as you say “down”, take a food treat in your fist, place it at your puppy’s nose and pass it down to the floor. Your puppy will follow the treat and lie down. After your puppy consistently goes into the “down” position, you can teach them to stay in this position just as for the sit position.

Come. When your puppy will sit or lie down and stay while you take ten steps away, it is time to begin the “come” command. Give your puppy the “sit” and “stay” command. Take five steps back, whistle, say your dog’s name and “come” in an excited tone of voice. You may want to open your arms or make some other welcoming gesture to encourage your puppy to come. When the puppy reaches you, praise and give a treat. Follow with a “sit”. Repeat the command (taking only five steps) several times gradually, then increase the distance to ten steps. Always praise when your puppy comes to you on command. Never call a puppy to scold or do anything they won’t like (such as giving medication or a bath). Responding to the “come” command should always be a positive experience for the puppy. Remember, food should only be used as a motivator to get a desired behavior. Food can be slowly replaced with praise, as you will need that special food motivator for advancing training.

Drop it. There are going to be many times that your puppy picks up something you don’t want it to have. A drop it command is very useful in these situations. Start when the puppy has a toy he/she is not super interested in. Rattle a treat bag or show the puppy you have a treat. As soon as you have the puppy’s attention it should drop what is in its mouth to eat the treat. While it is dropping the treat say “drop it” to pair the behaviour with the word you want to signify it. Continue to work on this behaviour with your puppy holding increasingly desired objects.

Back up. This is an incredibly useful behaviour if you have a dog that likes to be close to you. If you are walking towards your dog it is usually going to move out of the way. As you continue to move towards it, the dog should move backwards. You can then pair the behaviour with the word.

Recommended Reading:

  • Decoding Your Dog by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
  • Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right by Dr. Sophia Yin
  • Family Friendly Dog Training by Patricia McConnell
  • The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
  • Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor
  • Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
  • Idiots Guide to Positive Pet Training by Pamela Dennison

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